CORRECTION 10:52 a.m. July 31: A previous version of this story erroneously reported a lone GOP primary candiate. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error.
Editor’s note: This is one of a series of intermittent stories about contests in the Aug. 11 primary election.
The state House District 1 Democratic primary race pits a 10-year legislator against a community activist who’s running for office for the first time.
State Rep. Mark Nakashima, a 55-year-old former teacher, said he’ll be “standing on the record that I’ve compiled over the last 10 years” representing the sprawling district that encompasses Hamakua, North Hilo and a portion of South Hilo.
His opponent, Koohan Paik-Mander is development director for Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and former coordinator of the Asia-Pacific program at the International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco-based think tank co-founded by her husband, Jerry Mander. She was instrumental in pressing a civil lawsuit over the county’s plans for Kukuihaele Park and in protesting wastewater discharges at Big Island Dairy, which was fined $25,000 in 2017 by the state Department of Health, and is the subject of a federal lawsuit.
The winner is automatically elected to the seat as there are no candidates for any other parties or nonpartisan candidates.
Two accomplishments Nakashima pointed to are helping raise the minimum wage in Hawaii for the first time since 2007 and state investment in workforce development, including the creation of advisory committees to advise the state’s labor director on jobs in health care, agriculture and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“The last of the increases happened this year, when the minimum wage went to $10.10,” Nakashima said about the minimum wage hike.
He said workforce development initiatives included creating microgrants “that allow for … responses to workforce needs in a particular area, for example, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians (and) agricultural workers.”
The 57-year-old Paik-Mander describes herself as “heavily involved in sustainable agriculture” and wrote on her campaign’s Facebook page that Nakashima has given the dairy “a free pass to pollute and disfigure beautiful Hamakua.”
“What I’m seeing is our state making a lot of pronouncements about sustainability about this year or that year and resilience,” Paik-Mander said. “But I’m seeing actions that are actually going in the other direction. Like having the first factory farm in Hawaii be right smack dab in my district, making people sick. And the state has basically been turning a blind eye in the Department of Ag.”
Nakashima disputes Paik-Mander’s “free pass” assertion and said he continues to consult with DOH “in regard to the safeguards that need to be put in place” regarding the dairy.
“Kupale Ookala has since decided to file suit in federal court, which kind of takes it from the legislative arena into the judicial side,” he said. “We continue to monitor, we continue to ensure when there are issues that are brought up, we follow up with the Department of Health to ensure that things are being followed up upon. I recently went to a meeting with the new management, who sounds like they are taking steps to try and change the way that they are running the dairy and ensure there are no releases of wastewater.”
Nakashima was one of three Big Island representatives who cast a vote to increase the transient accommodations tax, or TAT, to bail out the troubled Honolulu fixed-rail transit project. Senate Bill 4 also gave counties the authority to add a surcharge to the general excise tax, with proceeds earmarked only for capital costs for the public transportation systems.
“The transient accommodations tax is paid when you stay in a hotel room,” Nakashima said. “In my mind, that would insulate our residents from having to pay this additional tax for Oahu rail. It’s limited to those who stay in hotel rooms. And unless you vacation at home, you’re not paying the tax. And also, you can decide how much you’re going to pay for the tax by the amount you pay for your hotel room.”
Paik-Mander said it wasn’t in the best interest of constituents “to give away our much needed share of the TAT to fund an Oahu project that we will never use or benefit from.”
“And that particular bill indicated some sort of mitigation for the damage, that we would be allowed to raise our GET tax. That’s no consolation for the loss of our TAT tax …,” she said. “But to rub salt into the wound for me … Mark Nakashima introduced a bill to exempt the Hu Honua Bioenergy facility from having to pay its GET tax. So this, to me, was a disservice and injustice to the constituents of District 1, both coming and going. And I pledge to never pass legislation that will be that flagrantly in violation of the best interest of constituents.”
The legislation Paik-Mander referred to, House Bill 584, passed first reading in 2017 but wasn’t heard by any committees. The bill was held over until this year’s legislative session, where it was approved by the House and passed first reading by the Senate, but didn’t receive a committee hearing.
Nakashima said Hu Honua is needed, especially since Puna Geothermal Venture was shut down shortly before its wells were overrun by lava.
“Up until just recently, 30 to 40 percent of our energy was renewable. It was geothermal,” he said. “And now that the geothermal plant has closed down, we’re back up to almost 90 percent fossil fuel. I think fossil fuel is the most damaging to the planet in terms of the greenhouse gases. … For the near term, burning trees is still considered a renewable resource because you can plant more trees. In fact, part of the program is that they have to continue planting trees. In that way, the effects of greenhouse gases is kind of negated because the gases created are being absorbed by the new trees.”
Nakashima supports the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope, saying it “offers us the opportunity to learn a lot more about the universe that we live in,” and Maunakea “is the best place to allow for the continued exploration of and quest for knowledge about deep space.”
Paik-Mander, on the other hand, said she’s “pro-science but anti-colonization, so I support the people who want Maunakea to remain TMT-free.”
A ballot initiative in November’s general election will ask voters to create a surcharge for public education funding by targeting “investment real property” valued at $1 million and more if the owner doesn’t qualify for a homeowner’s exemption. If it passes, the surcharge amount would be determined by the Legislature.
“As we look at our tax structure and the purposes that we spend those taxes on — primarily, it’s the general excise tax, the income tax and the real property tax — there is a need for an adjustment and refocusing on what those taxes are and what they’re paying for,” said Nakashima, who supports the ballot measure. “I can see the possibility the initiative could provide us the opportunity to have that discussion about re-balancing and re-purposing of our major taxes.”
Paik-Mander noted the initiative’s vagueness but said she’s in favor of an education surcharge.
“Just the mere fact that 27 percent of the state’s land is owned by people that don’t even live here, and that we have one of the lowest investment property taxes in the United States — there’s definitely room to create equity in our society. Because right now, the gap between haves and have-nots is growing, especially on our island and especially with the lava evacuees.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.